Oddly Amazing Animals, cover by Ari Stiles. Below, some of the illustrations from the book, shown at different stages in the design process.

Oddly Amazing Animals, cover by Ari Stiles. Below, some of the illustrations from the book, shown at different stages in the design process.

 

An oddly amazing story.

This book. Oh, this book. What is now Oddly Amazing Animals began when my talented, fun, funny friend Cindy Li and I started a project in 2010 or so to write a children's book. Neither of us had kids; why a children's book? Who knows. We pleasantly labored over our project, meeting every Saturday for a working brunch, alternating between our San Francisco apartments.

"A" was the first letter, and we chose the aye-aye as the first animal. Cindy sketched the aye-aye carefully, deliberately, looking at online sources to cross reference various features. I researched the aye-aye’s territory, habits, diet, etc, and learned about how they use echolocation to find grubs, aka baby insects, living inside of decaying logs. By tapping their incredibly long, bony fingers against the wood, and listening intently, they can hear the difference in sound between a bony-fingered tap that's directly outside of where a little grub is going about his day, and a tap that is just on non-exciting, grub-less, rotting wood.

Now — the task at hand (again, I have no idea why we decided to take this on) was to explain this interesting behavior, in verse, using words that a six-year-old would know. After an egregiously long time I wrote the verses that, when tweaked slightly, made their way into the book as follows:

Aye-ayes have neat ways

of finding their lunches.

They tap tap on trees

to hear and make hunches.

They can hear when the tree has small grubs inside,

by the sound that the taps make.

Grubs have no place to hide!

Phew. Now I just had to do this 25 more times. Cindy, meanwhile, was making equally belabored progress on the illustrations. I think the aye-aye was the only one that could be considered done-ish by the time the project kind of fizzled out on its own. Our lives were getting more complicated, and spending hours every Saturday on this project just gradually stopped happening.

And it stayed dormant until 2018. In the intervening years, Cindy and I had both gotten married and both had kids. Children's books became relevant parts of our lives again.

And something else had changed -- Cindy was very sick. Three years ago exactly, Aug 1 2016, Cindy sent me a Facebook Messenger note:

I have a secret not so happy to share. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer while pregnant with Orion at 22 weeks. He was born at 37 weeks. I'm starting chemo again tomorrow.

The cancer, and her aggressive treatment of it, both continued. We kept checking in, especially after I learned I’d be having a boy. She was delighted to tell me the, um, intracacies of caring for my soon-to-arrive tiny dude.

The book came back to life after a chance encounter with an amazing person named Julia Mossbridge. Julia and I met at Spark Camp, and immediately hit it off. Julia is a professional psychic, with a PhD in psychology and an impressive list of clients who hire her for her intuitive skills — including tech companies and intelligence agencies — all of which you've heard of. We stayed in touch after the conference, and a few weeks later she wrote:

Okay, so I had a positive intuition and I thought I'd let you know. This book you're going to write — it's very important. I know it's a busy time, but it's worth putting a bit of effort toward it.

A book? Which book? I didn't have a book to write. And then I remembered the animal book and had a strong hunch that that was the book. I figured, why not? I asked Cindy if she wanted to start working on it again — she was thrilled.

It was so wonderful to start back up, to be trading sketches and verses back and forth, now between Pittsburgh and New York City instead of the Mission and Cole Valley.

And then Cindy started getting much sicker. In October I went to Pittsburgh and sat with her during a couple of her final days. She told me that she was sorry that we didn't finish the book. I told her that I would finish it, no matter what.

And, we did. In the days and weeks after she passed, I put word out among Cindy's enormous network of loving (and very talented) friends that we needed help. Rebecca Webb, Jon Hicks, Chris Moeller, Marissy Benitez, Natalie Downe and Ari Stiles all heeded the call and contributed wonderful illustrations. Jeff Rider came up with the title, and Ari volunteered to art direct the final book. Meanwhile, I kept cranking out the animal verses, playing with different rhymes on the subway, while walking, during every car ride.

Over the coming months, the book took shape, bit by bit.

And now: here we are. The book is now officially in the global library cataloging system and will soon be available to purchase through Lulu.

I think it's a good one. I hope you like it, too. A lot of people put a lot of love into it, and I think that it shows.

We’ll post a link to buy it soon. All proceeds are going to Cindy's kids.